Bird’s Eye: multi-sensor system, AI ensures safe power supply in Germany


German grid operators Schleswig Holstein Netz AG and Bayernwerk Netz GmbH commissioned Siemens Energy to inspect nearly 4,000 kilometers of overhead high-voltage lines. The inspection will be carried out by a helicopter equipped with a high-tech multi-sensor system using the SIEAERO service concept.

Developed by Siemens Energy, the system collects all the necessary data during the flight, which can then be evaluated using artificial intelligence and analyzed by other software tools. In the near future, this type of holistic inspection of overhead power lines can also be carried out with large drones.

For inspection, Siemens Energy attaches SIEAERO’s multi-sensor system to the underside of a helicopter. Equipped with 19 cameras and 3D laser scanning sensors, it captures all relevant inspection data in a single flight over the pipeline, resulting in up to 12,000 detailed 3D images and data per kilometer of power line. SIEAERO’s software, which uses artificial intelligence, can evaluate the images in just a few hours, whereas a human would need a few days.

The artificial intelligence was previously trained with more than two million European and North American grid images to automatically detect flaws in the images. This allows potential hazards such as trees growing too close to the line to be detected earlier. During flights, the surface temperature of individual components is also measured, among other things.

The resulting digital data provides an accurate and detailed overview of the condition of equipment in operation, and can be combined with existing network data for further assessments.

Each kilometer of line traveled generates 300 gigabytes of data. The SIEAERO system uses this data to create a digital twin, a highly accurate image of the inspected network infrastructure, including poles, lines, terrain and vegetation.

With the digital twin, network operators can simulate extreme events like a tree falling on a line and causing it to fail and take appropriate preventive measures. To guarantee a continuous supply during the energy transition, the electricity networks must be extended. Thanks to comprehensive 3D models of the network, the necessary extension and modification measures can be planned and implemented more quickly.

In the future, drones could simplify and improve the inspection of power lines. Siemens Energy has already successfully carried out several test flights with a drone equipped with the SIEAERO system. Using a drone has a number of advantages: it is more environmentally friendly and quieter than a helicopter, and critical locations could be approached in a more targeted manner. Currently, however, most countries still prohibit the use of unmanned aerial vehicles beyond visual range. As soon as the legal situation permits in these countries, Siemens Energy will also offer SIEAERO as a drone service.

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